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Part of the Furniture

Two old chairs sat side-by-side facing the window. Arms worn, seats sagging, covers bleached by sunlight.

‘We used to talk. We used to look at one another. I remember when you used to notice me. You used to ask me me how I was. You said I was beautiful. Don’t you remember? You never talk to me anymore,’ said one chair to the other.

‘No. Not us. We never did. That was the humans,’ said the other chair. ‘We’re just chairs you daft bugger.’

‘Why don’t they then?’

‘Why don’t they what?’

‘The humans. Why don’t they talk, why don’t they look at one another? Why don’t they say nice things anymore? Don’t they care?’

‘I think they think they are chairs too.’

A Chance to Shine

My modest return to Friday Flash. It seems I haven’t written and shared a flash fiction since December 2012!

This isn’t the first time I’ve given a voice to an inanimate object. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short fiction about a pair of shoes with their own opinions…

An apple from the garden, sat atop the wooden kitchen table, all perfectly imperfect.
Alone in the half-light from the cookerhood lamps, it proudly glowed: its contours more strongly rounded by its halo, the two small, black bruises and the – as yet negliable – newly forming wrinkles hidden by the shadows.

‘Paint me,’ it whispered. ‘I’m still beautiful. Paint me before I die.’

A woman entered the room, switched on a single light bulb, remembered the apple she had rescued from the ground in the morning, and smiled now at how its middle seemed noble and self-possessed like a robin’s. She saw the asymmetrical left-lean of the stalk, the elliptical shadow pool, and the way the reflection from the light bulb beamed out midway where the red and yellow colouring met. There was something really palatable – comforting almost – about the form of an apple.

She remembered drawing and painting apples in school. Hadn’t she been quite good at still life? For the briefest moment she wondered if she would like to sit and draw this apple now. But it was late, and anyway what would it achieve? She didn’t have time for unproductive things like drawing and painting.

‘Paint me. I’m dying.’

‘Where’s Cézanne when you need him?’ the woman asked the apple, pressing her lips together in compunction, as she turned out the lights, shut the door and followed the stairs to bed.

The forlorn apple’s previously tight, satiny skin turned sticky and soft in the dark, warm kitchen. It had tried its best but it hadn’t managed to inspire her.

Maybe the stories it had heard on the tree about humans being creative and appreciating nature the way no other animal could hadn’t been true after all.

Backward Forward Thinking

shutterstock_135498428Somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, there are humans who knew that dragging coal and oil out of the earth was stupid, dangerous, dirty and unsustainable so they left it there and instead they developed products and technologies from safe, clean, sustainable sources, fought the NYMBYs and the luddites centuries ago, harnessed, wind, wave and solar power and will continue to thrive and renew for eons – long after we have fried.

It’s not too late to join them as a sort of sickly, recuperating, penitent relative with previous self-destructive addictions, trying to clean up our act,  but it looks like we’re not even going to bother because we still haven’t admitted we’re addicted and we’re in the wrong.

Well done to the wise inhabitants of that other earth in that parallel universe. I wish I and my descendants could join you.

Peace, please: this Aspie angst.

An open request.
I have Asperger’s, I have anxiety and I have acute hearing. If you sit in your van, behind our garden hedge, in the lane that only leads to next door – and which I only expect to see my neighbours using – having a loud conversation, just yards from my garden door, it feels as if you are in my garden. I can hear what you are saying and I feel I am invaded and not able to have my own conversations, my own thoughts, my own peace. You are not meant to be in my garden idyll – in fact you destroy my garden idyll.
I am not paranoid or stupid, I don’t feel threatened per say, I just don’t know you or why you are there – you are too close for comfort and I need you out of my zone of peace.

My anxiety will rise, I will pace and I will be unable to function properly.

I will start vocalising my concerns more and more loudly until you go away.

This is how it is.

I don’t ask for much. Please give me my peace.

No more Asperger’s stereotypes! Please!

Recently Asperger’s has become a bit trendy in books, TV and films, and I’m seeing a lot of the same ideas about behaviours and traits rolled out, and more stereotypes than you can shake a stick at squeezed and squoshed inside the poor characters, and the individuality and very humanness of aspies insulted and belittled.

In the last few days and weeks, I’ve had a run of simply being a human being and not having to think too deeply about my brain-wiring, so I’m not really in the mood for confronting the “no empathy”, “painfully honest” shit that’s been badly wallpapered onto everyone with Asperger’s – like we’re a bunch of weird, abnormal clones and everyone else is somehow so much more tactful and thoughtful.


It is nasty, unfair and untrue, and it breaks my heart every time I’m exposed to said shit. Everyone else is not much more tactful and thoughtful and going around being all nice all the time. We are not two separate species: one with empathy and one without. It simply is not like that. 

I think about other people ALL THE TIME. I think about how my actions impact on others ALL THE TIME. I care deeply about people and watch them carefully and read them intently to gauge their feelings. Just like every other fucker on the planet I can let tactless things slip out occasionally – and when I do that I feel bad. 

Yes, it’s true I don’t see the point in lying when the truth is important. But, no, it’s not true I speak my mind all the time and unnecessarily offend people regularly. Yes, it’s true I can have trouble deciphering what people need from me when I feel their behaviour is coded. But this is cognitive empathy and not the same as emotional empathy and it does not mean I am unable to guess, to judge or to imagine how other people are feeling or to feel very deeply for what they are going through.  Nor does it mean I am unable to show sympathy, empathy, support or help work on solutions for other people. I understand that everyone is different and thinks differently and responds differently to situations; that people learn differently and need different approaches to things they are tackling, struggling with or dealing with, and I understand that might very well be different from things that might work for me.

Speaking for myself, the greatest problem I have is the strange codes and behaviours that exist in the neurotypical (non-Aspie) world, whereby people don’t say what they mean and don’t ask for what they want: they say things they don’t mean, they agree to do things they don’t want to do, they leave things out, and they approach things from an angle that is unfamiliar to me. Importantly, I find neurotypical timing to be slightly different from my own and I believe this is due to some challenges in processing more than one thing at a time. This timing leads me to be off cue, slightly disordered or slow in the behaviour others may be expecting, and people who have spent their whole lives shepherded by neurotypical behaviours (even other aspies) don’t see what they are expecting so make a immediate judgement that there is something lacking.

Neurotypical people, it would seem, on the whole are more likely to pretend. They are more likely to be two-faced. They are incredibly likely to read an autistic person wrongly and make an unfair or incorrect judgement. They are not better at empathy. 

But this post isn’t about widening the gap that’s been created to an extent by common misperceptions, it’s about trying to narrow it so what I want to say is this:
When you find yourself believing someone has no empathy, ask yourself how deeply your own empathy is running to have reached that conclusion. 

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